NAIROBI, Kenya – Looking ahead to Kenya's national vote in March, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday warned leaders and citizens in the East African nation not to repeat the deadly violence that plunged the country into chaos after disputed presidential elections five years ago.
Clinton said Kenya had the potential to be prove its democratic maturity and be an international model for free, fair and transparent elections. But she made clear that further election unrest would damage Kenya's economy and global standing.
"Not only is this important for the people of Kenya, but the eyes of the world will be on this election," Clinton told civic leaders and members of Kenya's electoral commission after meetings with President Mwai Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and parliament speaker.
"I have absolute confidence that Kenya has a chance to be a model for other nations, not just here in Africa but around the world," she said. "On the other hand, the unrest that can result from a disputed election has a terrible cost both in lives lost and in economic impact."
Some estimate that the widespread violence and unrest that followed the 2007 election cost Kenya more than a billion dollars in lost revenue. In addition, it marred what had been a solid reputation as a stable democracy in East Africa.
More than 1,000 people were killed in postelection violence after police ejected observers from the center where votes were being tallied and the electoral body declared Kibaki the winner.
The International Criminal Court has ordered four prominent Kenyans to stand trial for allegedly orchestrating the wave of violence. Among them are two potential 2013 presidential candidates, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former Education Minister William Ruto.
Kenyatta is the son of Kenya's founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, and the country's richest citizen, with a personal fortune of half a billion dollars. Ruto is a former ally of Odinga, but the two had a falling-out, partly over Ruto's insistence on making his own presidential bid.
Two of those ordered to stand trial are Kibaki supporters, while the other two backed his rival in the presidential race, Odinga. Odinga was later appointed prime minister in a power-sharing government.
Clinton urged Kenya to put in place a credible system for dealing with potential voting problems. Such a mechanism will be critical to ensuring stability when the winners and losers are announced.
"When you lose an election and when your supporters see you lose an election, it's important that they have to see that the process is there," she said. "That's what we hope for here for our friends in Kenya."
In addition to her discussions on the political climate in Kenya, Clinton also sat down with members of Somalia's transitional government. She said she was encouraged by progress that Somali leaders have made in trying to re-establish a viable central government in the Horn of Africa nation where an Al Qaeda-linked insurgency group still partly rules.
With the U.N. mandate for Somalia's current government expiring Aug. 20, and leaders set to vote on a new constitution, Clinton spoke of the work needed "to support the new government and to provide the kind of international sustainability that the people of Somalia so deserve so they can have the opportunity for a peaceful future with prosperity and development for the betterment" of all Somalis.
"We are very encouraged by the progress that the leaders have been making to meet all the requirements of the road map" by the Aug. 20 deadline, Clinton said before talks with Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and others.
Somali leaders voted Wednesday to approve a constitution that provides for individual rights and sets a course for a more powerful and representative government after two decades of near anarchy. Underscoring the unstable security situation, explosions from a failed suicide attack hit the gates of the meeting site in the capital Mogadishu.
The constitution, eight years in the making, makes it clear that Islamic law is the basis for Somalia's legal foundation. The U.N. hopes to make the transition to a more representative form of government, but nationwide or even regional elections appear to be years away.
Somalia has not had a powerful central government since 1991, when the president was killed and the country collapsed into chaos, leaving vacuum that militants from the al-Qaida affiliated hardline al-Shabab Islamist group have tried to fill.
With the help of an African Union peacekeeping mission led by Uganda, the government managed to push al-Shabab out of the seaside capital last year, but the militants can still infiltrate Mogadishu and effectively run south-central Somalia.
Clinton arrived in Kenya from Uganda on Saturday and is on the fourth leg of an 11-day tour of Africa. The trip began in Senegal and will take her next to Malawi and South Africa.